Willem Arondius, "not less courageous"

I like to think of myself as a proud activist queer with an enormous interest in history, but the awesome story of Willem Arondius [alternatively, "Arondeus"] and his friends was completely unknown to me until this week. It played itself out across the screen of my laptop only because I had been going through the website of the Holocaust Museum in connection with their latest special exhibit, "Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945."

What follows is the story I composed as a collage, quoting and editing accounts from several web sources which deal with Arondius.

During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, on the evening of March 27, 1943, a resistance unit comprised of artists, students and two young doctors raided the Bevolkingsregister [residents' registration office] in Amsterdam. One of them, costume designer Sjoerd Bakker, had himself tailored [German] police uniforms for the entire unit. The leader of the group, artist and writer Willem Arondius, wore the uniform of a police captain. With the aid of these disguises, they managed to gain entrance to the building without attracting any attention and immediately set to work disarming all the guards posted there. While doing so, they took extra care not to harm any of them. The guards were temporarily rendered immobile after being injected with harmless amounts of a tranquilizing substance. After dragging the anaesthetized guards outside and laying them down in a garden, the next few minutes were spent planting incendiary benzole compounds all over the building that were then ignited by remote control. After five detonations, fire broke out in all the rooms. All the arsonists involved managed to escape the scene undetected.

The bombing of Amsterdam's Bevolkingsregister had an enormous psychological effect on the Dutch people: Even if all files were not destroyed by the flames, the German occupiers were now extremely nervous, and many Resistance groups throughout the country felt encouraged to follow suit with similar actions. The Netherlands had been occupied by the Wehrmacht (regular German army) since May 1940, and from the beginning of July 1942, deportations of Jews to the Polish death camps had already begun. Approximately 25,000 of the ca. 140,000 Jews living at that time in Holland resided there illegally. Most of them were forced by the circumstances to live in hiding-places and be provided for by non-Jews. The artists active in the Resistance were mainly busy with fashioning forged identity cards for these victims of persecution. However, even perfectly made I.D. imitations could be dangerous for their holders, as soon as they were compared with the duplicates that existed in the bevolkingsgregister. Thus came the idea of bombing the registration office, in order to destroy as many of those files as possible.

The homosexual writer and artist Willem Arondius was the chief coordinator of the operation. Two other gay comrades-in-arms were the tailor Sjoerd Bakker and the writer Johan Brouwer. They were later betrayed by a person or persons unknown, arrested and sentenced to death. During the Nazi show trial Willem Arondius assumed full responsibility for the bombing. The only ones to survive the Nazi era, by their receiving long sentence terms instead of the death penalty, were the two doctors (Cees Honig and Willem Beck) who had tranquilized the guards.

Shortly before his execution Willem Arondius had his lawyer promise that she would pass the following words on to others so that future generations might not forget: [In Dutch: "Homo's hoeven niet minder moedig te zijn dan andere mensen"] "Homosexuals aren't any less courageous than other people."

Even in the liberal Netherlands it took until April 1990 for the larger part of the population to receive this message. Toni Bouwman's highly praised 1990 documentary on Arondius' life was broadcast that year on Dutch television:["Na het feest, zonder afscheid verdwenen--Notities uit het leven van Willem Arondius"] "After the Party: Gone Without Saying Good-Bye.--Notes from the Life of Willem Arondius."

[slightly edited from the Ben Boxer's Silver Foxe Clubhouse site's excellent account]

There's apparently only a little more available on the net in English, and this is just about all of that:

Arondius had been born in Amsterdam in 1895. An artist and author, Arondius [fabulous photo!] was commissioned to do a mural for the eighteenth-century villa then serving as provincial capital, or Provinciehuis, for North Holland in Haarlem in the 1920's (which still survives) and later published a biography of Dutch painter Matthijs Maris. But he would never become a really successful artist. One account says that he was subject to mood changes and that he suffered from a inferiority complex [actually, the words used are "He suffered from a minority complex," but although I believe they really meant, "inferiority complex," I entirely understand the heavy impact of the other possibility, and it may say even much more]. He seemed to both love and hate the capital. He moved a couple of times to the countryside, but always returned. Prior to World war II he lived with Jan Thijssen, the son of a green grocer, in the countryside near Apeldoorn, but they moved to Amsterdam in the late thirties. Arondius joined the "Raad van Verzet" resistance movement shortly after the invasion. This underground unit specialized in falsifying registration papers.

The efforts and courage of such units of the resistance are attested to in works such as The Diary of Anne Frank. Monuments to the resistance commemorate the brave acts of Dutch citizens who participated in the general strike that brought the country to a standstill in reaction to the Nazi's violent attacks on the Jewish community in Amsterdam. Streets are named after the brave leaders of the resistance who gave their lives in defense of others. However, the social attitude towards Gays in post-war Europe made recognition of a homosexual such as Arondius more difficult.

The world that survived the war was not ready to endure a homosexual hero.

[edited largely from the account found on Lambda's site and including material from the site of Hans and Thomas {see another, more conservative, photo of Arondius}]

Would we be able to do as much as did Willem, his friends and so many others?


Those who can read Dutch may want to look at the brief biographical text from the Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis [Institute for Netherlands History] site.


Willem was of course not alone. The story of at least one other member of his circle. Frieda Belinfante, will need her own post.